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More IMing, Less MySpace May Keep Internet Kids Safer: UBC Researcher

November 14, 2006

Source: University of British Columbia
http://www.publicaffairs.ubc.ca/media/releases/2006/mr-06-119.html

Teens who do a lot of instant messaging (IMing) may be safer from online predators than those who donít, suggest the initial findings of a University of British Columbia study that looks at the impact of Internet use on adolescent well-being.

Education Asst. Prof. Jennifer Shapka is leading TeenTech, the first study in Canada to directly monitor the home Internet activities of adolescents between the ages of 10-15. Started in 2005, the first six months of the pilot research generated 13 million records and 44 gigabytes of data from 20 familiesí home computers. The four-year study will be completed by 2009.

"Weíre looking at the first generation to have grown up with the Internet, which is now 15 years old," says Shapka. "But we know very little the effects of hours and hours of daily web surfing and instant messaging on the adolescentís social, emotional, cognitive and physical development."

To date, her data shows that instant messaging (IMing) is by far the most popular activity for 75 per cent of the study participants, across all ages studied.

"This suggests that the 25 per cent who donít do instant messaging may not have any friends and may be isolated at school," says Shapka, who teaches in Education and Counselling Psychology and Special Education at UBCís Faculty of Education.

"And theoretically, these kids are likely to reach out to online strangers for their social needs, which may make them vulnerable to online predators. This research will confirm or disprove this."

Other findings of the pilot research include:

  • On average, adolescents are using the Internet in appropriate ways. However, there is a huge range in how much time adolescents spend online , ranging from 0.2 hours to 8.2 hours per day online.

  • Younger teens tend to spend less time on the Internet.

  • But by 14 years old, their online activities jump dramatically to an average of 2.5 hours per day, and theyíre either sending or receiving more than 40 instant messages per day

    The data shows that social networking is the least popular activity, with only 20 per cent of adolescents in the study visiting websites such as Facebook and MySpace.

    "Parents may find that reassuring," says Shapka, "given the recent concerns about the vulnerability of children and adolescents when they give out personal information on publicly available websites."

    She says of the 20 per cent who visit online social networking sites, half of them do not use instant messaging. "Although not confirmed, t his supports the idea that these kids may be looking for alternate means to meet and make friends.

    "The TeenTech project will help us identify what factors might be contributing to these individuals withdrawing into a virtual world," says Shapka. "For prevention this information is imperative."

    In September, Shapka won $300,000 in research funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health. The TeenTech project has also received $ 189,000 jointly from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the B.C. Knowledge Development Fund.

    TeenTech is recruiting teens and their families to participate in the study. For more information, visit http://educ.ubc.ca/faculty/shapka/teentech or contact TeenTech at 604.822-3000 , or email:teentech@interchange.ubc.ca.

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